About two years ago, as part of my CPD activities, I attended a course titled ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’ which I’d seen advertised in an in-flight magazine of all places. The course leads to a qualification as a ‘mediator.’ Mediators are professionals who specialize in resolution of disputes and they are often found in a legal context prior to court action, or a relationship / family setting and sometimes HR.
I have not practised formally as a mediator, but just as with negotiation, there are numerous opportunities to apply the skills on a daily basis to all the relationships / interactions we have with the people around us.
Actually the core skills of the course are about communication with people. What does listening mean? In an engineering context, if we were sending messages as part of a communication protocol, we would expect an acknowledgement, error checking / error handling elements as part of any robust design. How about listening to people? Is it about hearing the words, or does it go better if you also demonstrate to the ‘sending party’ that you have understood their message, or one level deeper their position, and perhaps one more – their emotions.
For me, the course stimulated a whole area of thought discovery considering parallels / differences between machine/machine communication, people/people communication and people/machine communication (largely covered by the usability discipline). As well as this it’s been very valuable at helping me get better / easier outcomes from my daily professional / personal life. It might come as a surprise that these people communication skills can be learned and practised – they are not innate. In fact, I would argue they have a place in any school curriculum.
Technology is ever changing in our industry, but communication skills are universally and relatively unchanging, if rarely coached. We’ve partnered with two experienced coaches / facilitators whom I met as faculty members on the ADR course above, to design a course tailored for IT professionals. We have decided to run it as an open course, because much of the learning is experiential and positively influenced by differing perspectives of a wider group of people.